May 31st 2013 marks the day when Istanbul riot police launched a brutal assault on peaceful protesters who were gathered in Gezi Park. Demonstrators occupied the park in protest against government plans to pave over the park, one of the few left in Istanbul and build a shopping mall in the adjacent Taksim Square.
Plans to hold demonstrations in Taksim Square this weekend which marks the 1st anniversary of the police crackdown will fall foul since around 25,000 police officers and 50 water cannon trucks (TOMAs) have been assigned to greet demonstrators this weekend, ‘Hurriyet’ reports.
Istanbul’s governor has warned that no gatherings will be allowed in the Taksim area.
“Groups in small numbers could try to reach their own aims. But we will take measures against it,” Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters on 28th May, while denying that the tight security measures meant that Taksim Square would be closed.
“We are not closing down Taksim at all. But when there is a difficult situation, measures are taken as a process of a couple of hours or a day. One would wish that both Taksim and Gezi Park will be full of people as they are right now,” Mutlu declared.
The Istanbul Police Department is ready for heavy police deployment around Taksim Square to prevent gatherings on 31st May. Unlike on May Day, access to Taksim will not be blocked by metal barricades, although public transport to the square, including metro lines, will be cancelled. Some 25,000 riot police will be assigned to both Taksim and the roads connecting to the iconic square.
A large number of armoured vehicles along with fifty TOMAs and helicopters will also be dispatched to conduct air surveillance.
The heavy-handed police approach to what began as a peaceful demonstration in Gezi Park last year ignited protests and demonstrations across the country which also spread to other countries. Turkey received widespread international condemnation for way its police force acted to quell demonstrations.
Gezi Park became a symbol representing the right to free assembly and freedom of speech but at great cost. More than 8,000 people were injured, some seriously and eleven people died, most recently a 15 year old boy, Elvan Berkin who died this March having remained in a coma since June 2013 after unwittingly being caught up in the police attacks.